If you've looked over quite a few of my trip reports, you probably have come to realize that the Owlshead Mountains are my favorite mountain range in Death Valley.  There are many reasons that this is the case.  To list a few of them--  (1) The isolation and solitude found in the Owlsheads is unparalleled in the park.  Despite spending nearly a half of month of time hiking in the Owlsheads throughout my lifetime trips to Death Valley, I've never encountered another hiker.  This peaceful solitude is especially evident when you backpack in and camp overnight.  (2) The scenery of the Owlsheads is completely different than everything else in the park.  Places like the desolate dry lakes Lost and Owl, and the canyons made up of decomposing granite, cannot be found anywhere else in the park, at least not on the same scale.  (3) The canyons are fun and interesting.  There are wide open spacious canyons and there are narrow canyons.  With many of the canyons being officially unnamed, there is a lot to explore and discover.  Inside the canyons, there are fun climbs, massive house-sized boulders resting in the wash, and wildlife such as Kit foxes, tarantulas, desert tortoises, and burros.  To top everything off, almost all of the Owlshead canyons can be loop hiked, meaning that you get to see two canyons during a hike instead of just one.  (4) The Owlsheads are more accessible than most people realize.  While most people are scared off because the Owlsheads are so far away from Furnace Creek and Stovepipe Wells, the fact is that you can begin a hike to Talc Canyon without taking your car off of pavement and by only driving one hour south of Furnace Creek.  To visit more of the canyons other than Talc, Owlshead, or Slickenside, you will need to drive further south on Harry Wade Road, and the road conditions will vary.  But we have never had any problems driving down the Harry Wade Road without 4WD.  To further develop interest in and appreciation for the Owlshead Mountains, I am publishing this special report on the canyons located in the eastern part of the range.  I'm going to share below with you details about my personal favorite sights in the Owlshead Canyons.  At the end of that, you will find three photographs of a Mystery Canyon in the Owlsheads that have not been previously published.  As you can see from those final three photographs, there is still more out there to discover and explore.  Before sharing with you my Top 12 Owlshead Canyon Highlights, below you will find a topographical map which shows all of the informally and officially named canyons in the Owlshead Mountains (click to enlarge).  Only five canyons are officially named-- Talc, Owlshead, Contact, Granite, and Through.  The rest of the canyons were assigned informal names based on what is found in them by myself, those in the park service, and other hikers.
Owlshead Overview Topo Map
If you are new to hiking the Owlshead Mountains, you are probably wondering where you should start.  Outside of this site, there is only very limited information available about specific places within the Owlshead Mountains.  Most resources recommend the Through-Granite loop as the only suggested hike for the Owlshead Mountains.  Personally, I recommend starting elsewhere rather than taking the Through-Granite loop if it's going to be your first ever hike into the Owlshead Mountains.  The reason for this is that I think that Through Canyon and Granite Canyon both are two of the least exciting canyons in the range.  Through Canyon is a relatively wide canyon without a lot of outstanding scenic beauty.  The positives of hiking this canyon include seeing the Smoke Trees and also hiking out to the overlook viewpoint for the other side of the range (if you can hike that far on a dayhike).  Meanwhile, Granite Canyon is mostly narrow in the upper portion, but exciting scenery is also quite limited.  My recommendation for hikers new to the Owlsheads is to hike Contact Canyon.  Contact Canyon is quite scenic all the way through (once you actually get into the canyon proper).  And a dayhike of it ends at an amazing, logical place.  Dayhikers will be able to reach the colorful section of Contact Canyon at what I call the 4-way Junction, which is a confluence of side canyons.  The colorful area is beautiful and has a lot of spectacular highlights, including a stunning arch above the canyon.  For the informally named canyons, the best one is undoubtedly Sand Canyon.  Sand Canyon features two large sand dunes at the very end of the canyon, along with an incredible view of Owl Lake.  There is no place quite like Sand Canyon in the park, and that is why I highly recommend it.  Smoke Tree Canyon is another very interesting place.  And my favorite loop hike is Passage Canyon and Great Dry Fall Canyon.  If you start with all these canyons, you will be hooked on the Owlshead Mountains.  Below, you can find my Top 12 Owlshead Canyon Highlights, which are listed in no particular order.
Slickenside of Slickenside Canyon--  We start out with the largest slickenside found in the Owlshead Mountains, which can be found in the informally named Slickenside Canyon.  Slickenside Canyon is the next canyon northwest of Talc Canyon.  It is quite difficult to hike into, but the slickenside is well worth the effort required to see it.  There is also a neat slot side canyon nearby and several other interesting sights.
Headwall of Talc Canyon--  The massive headwall of Talc Canyon is its dominant feature, even when viewed from Badwater Road.  It's really awe-inspiring to hike up Talc Canyon and see the headwall looming in front of you, drawing ever closer.  But it's even more amazing to stand above the headwall and look down into Talc Canyon.  This viewpoint is nearly impossible to reach.
Narrows and dry falls in Owlshead Canyon--  During the early part of the hike, it might appear as if Owlshead Canyon is very wide open and not that exciting of a canyon.  But those who persevere and make it into the upper canyon are treated to a short section of narrows which dead-end at a major dry fall.  This is a fun area to explore, although attempting to climb the dry fall is not recommended.
Colorful four-way junction of Contact Canyon--  The colorful section of Contact Canyon is like an Artists Palette in the Owlsheads.  There are a great many different colors on display, all enclosed in a very narrow section of canyon near the juction of four side canyons.  It is a positively beautiful place.  Below, I am adding one additional picture showing the Contact Arch, which is also located in the colorful section.
Crossing the Amargosa River to reach Through Canyon & Granite Canyon--  If you hike into one of the northern canyons, such as Through Canyon and Granite Canyon, during the relatively short and uncommon wet season, you will find yourself facing a formidable but fun obstacle.  The Amargosa River could be full of flowing water.  The picture below was taken a little ways north of where you would cross to reach Through and Granite Canyons, but as you can see, a river crossing means you will be getting wet.  Fun!
Smoke trees of Smoke Tree Canyon--  Smoke Tree Canyon is the next major canyon south of Through Canyon.  While Through Canyon has a few scattered Smoke trees, Smoke Tree Canyon has a virtual forest of them.  The Smoke trees are scattered throughout a very narrow canyon with ever-changing scenery that is impressive from beginning to end.
Great Dry Fall of Great Dry Fall Canyon--  Huge dry falls in the Owlshead Mountains are hard to come by.  In fact, the 50+ foot dry fall which is found in Great Dry Fall Canyon is the biggest one which has ever been found in a main Owlshead Canyon.  Great Dry Fall has to be bypassed around the right side, providing the dramatic view shown below.  This dry fall is near the mouth of the canyon.
The Passage of Passage Canyon--  Another rarity in the Owlshead Mountains is truly dramatic canyon narrows with slot-like passages.  An exception to this is The Passage which is located in Passage Canyon.  The Passage is a narrow corridor which passes straight through a dramatic section of Owlshead decomposing granite rock walls.  It is quite a special experience to walk through The Passage.
Twin sand dunes of Sand Canyon--  Sand Canyon happens to be my personal favorite canyon in the Owlshead Mountains, and it is easy to see why.  Sand Canyon has something that no other major Death Valley canyon has, including all the canyons in the entire park.  At the very end of Sand Canyon there are large twin sand dunes which stand in startling contrast to the surrounding terrain.  An amazing place.
100-foot slot narrows of Owlshead Slot Canyon--  Along with The Passage, the most spectacular slot narrows in the Owlshead Mountains are found in Owlshead Slot.  Owlshead Slot is about 100 feet in length and cuts a path directly between walls made of decomposed granite before ending at a dry fall.  The next canyon to the south, Wind Caves Canyon, is also an interesting place to check out.
Wide open area of Quartz Canyon--  Quartz Canyon will keep you busy trying to track down and discover all of the locations where quartz diggings took place a long time in the past.  If you find them, make sure you take pictures, but leave the quartz behind.  One of the coolest aspects of Quartz Canyon is the open area that is in the middle canyon.  The best views of this area can be seen from the cliffs above the canyon.
Mystery Canyon in the Owlshead Mountains--  Beyond my own personal trip reports covering the canyons of the Owlsheads, there is a lot more to discover.  Below you will see three pictures of scenery in a mysterious canyon in the Owlsheads that has been seen by very few people.  These extra pictures are being provided to encouage you to get out there and hike and explore the Owlsheads.  You never know what you might find.
The pictures and captions above have been provided to give you a small glimpse into the scenery on display in the eastern draining canyons of the Owlshead Mountains.  There is much more to see on the western side, including Sagenite Canyon, Owl Lake, Lost Lake, Wingate Dry Lake, and the Epsom Salt Works located in the Crystal Hills.  I strongly encourage all of my fellow Death Valley hikers to give the Owlsheads a shot and visit them sometime.  Of course, many of you already have hiked in the Owlsheads.  So please write to me and share your stories of visiting the Owlsheads, as I love to hear from fellow hikers who have explored this region of Death Valley National Park.
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